Tag Archives: Guardia Civil

A Motoring Offence in Spain

“I had already learned to be wary of the Civil Guard, who were the poison dwarfs of Spain.  They would suddenly ride down upon you on their sleek black horses, far out in the open country and crowd around you all leather and guns and put you through a bullying interrogation.”                                                        Laurie Lee – ‘As I walked out one Sunny Morning’

There was still a very long way to go so we planned for another very early start.  When we woke in the morning there was no power and we had to pack in pitch darkness so goodness knows how much stuff we left behind.  We met in the car park and then we had our first problem of the day – the car wouldn’t start!  It was wet and miserable and the electrics were damp and it was probably still trying to get over yesterday’s long drive because this journey was one of the sort of improbable things that these days Jeremy Clarkson does on ‘Top Gear’!

We couldn’t bump start it because it was an automatic so Richard, who understood how cars work,  lifted the bonnet and fiddled with the leads and poked around a bit and the rest of us , who didn’t know how cars worked, stood around and kicked the tyres.  We were all impressed when Richard got the poor thing going and we set off on the road for Burgos on the way to France.

Richard was driving and by the time it got light we were making good progress north along a main highway that, because it was Saturday, was not especially busy this morning.  To this day I still dispute the designation ‘motorway’ because it was single carriageway, had no emergency lane, no lights and as it happens no road markings either.  Richard was driving sensibly and only overtaking when it was safe to do so but then, after about sixty kilometres, we had our next problem.  And this was serious!

All of a sudden the interior of the car was flooded with blue flashing lights from behind and a Spanish highway patrol vehicle was pulling us over.  Richard complied and we all left the vehicle to be confronted by two Guardia Civil policemen in their olive green uniforms, shiny black boots, creaking leather belts and those tricorn black hats that they used to wear, getting out of their green and white patrol car and looking very serious indeed.

We weren’t absolutely sure why they had asked us to stop and when we asked for explanation one of them drew a diagram that seemed to indicate that we had overtaken on double white lines.  Double white lines!  What lines?  They may have been there twenty years ago but there were certainly none there now!

There were two of them and the older one started to write out a ticket for a fine for fifteen thousand pesetas, which was about £60 and seemed like a lot of money to us, especially bearing in mind that we didn’t have any pesetas left anyway.  Anthony was minded to argue and started to get stroppy but the younger one tapped his fingers on the holster of his pistol and readjusted the blood-stained wooden cosh in his belt and the rest of us took that as a sign that we should just shut up and pay up.

This didn’t get over the problem of having no cash but the two highwaymen had a solution and made us follow them to a garage where they supervised the cashier as he exchanged everything that we had got into pesetas and the policemen gleefully took possession of it.  He took all of our French Francs, UK Sterling and what few Portuguese Escudos we had left, and actually we had more of those between us than we thought because Tony had been holding back on a bit of a stash concealed in the back of his wallet that he hadn’t owned up to and the rest of us were all a bit upset about that!  We had been thoroughly mugged and as we waved goodbye to the two policemen Anthony shouted a rather unpleasant accusation of dishonesty and an invitation to enjoy our contribution to the Guardia Civil Christmas party fund, which thankfully they didn’t hear.

When we arrived back home I wrote to the Spanish Embassy in London to complain and to request a refund and although they replied and sympathised they explained that they had no authority over the police and therefore couldn’t do anything to help.  It was a nice letter though!

Richard was a bit upset about the incident and sulked for the next hour or so while we drove past Burgos and stopped at a little town at just about breakfast time and found a bank where we could get enough cash to buy some fuel to get us out of Spain.  We carried on out of Castilla y León and into the green mountains of the Basque Country, past Bilbaó and San Sebastián and then headed east towards the Pyrenees and then the last Spanish town of Irun at the border with France, which we finally reached about twenty hours behind schedule.

A Year in a Life – 22nd November, A Motoring Offence in Spain

There was still a very long way to go so we planned for another very early start.  When we woke in the morning there was no power and we had to pack in pitch darkness so goodness knows how much stuff we left behind.  We met in the car park and then we had our first problem of the day – the car wouldn’t start!  It was wet and miserable and the electrics were damp and it was probably still trying to get over yesterday’s long drive because this journey was one of the sort of improbable things that these days Jeremy Clarkson does on ‘Top Gear’!  We couldn’t bump start it because it was an automatic so Richard, who understood how cars work,  lifted the bonnet and fiddled with the leads and poked around a bit and the rest of us , who didn’t, stood around and kicked the tyres.  We were all impressed when Richard got the poor thing going and we set off on the road for Burgos on the way to France.

Richard was driving and by the time it got light we were making good progress north along a main highway that, because it was Saturday, was not especially busy this morning.  To this day I still dispute the designation ‘motorway’ because it was single carriageway, had no emergency lane, no lights and as it happens no road markings either.  Richard was driving sensibly and only overtaking when it was safe to do so but then, after about sixty kilometres, we had our next problem.  And this was serious!

All of a sudden the interior of the car was flooded with blue flashing lights from behind and a Spanish highway patrol vehicle was pulling us over.  Richard complied and we all left the vehicle to be confronted by two Guardia Civil policemen in their olive green uniforms, black boots, leather belts and those tricorn black hats that they used to wear, getting out of their green and white patrol car and looking very serious indeed.

We weren’t absolutely sure why they had asked us to stop and when we asked for explanation one of them drew a diagram that seemed to indicate that we had overtaken on double white lines.  Double white lines!  What lines?  They may have been there twenty years ago but there were certainly none there now!  There were two of them and the older one started to write out a ticket for a fine for fifteen thousand pesetas, which was about £60 and seemed like a lot of money to us, especially bearing in mind that we didn’t have any pesetas left anyway.  Anthony was minded to argue but the younger one tapped his fingers on the holster of his pistol and readjusted his cosh in his belt and the rest of us took that as a sign that we should just shut up and pay up.

This didn’t get over the problem of having no cash but the two highwaymen had a solution and made us follow them to a garage where they supervised the cashier as he exchanged everything that we had got into pesetas and the policemen gleefully took possession of it.  He took all of our French Francs, UK Sterling and what few Portuguese Escudos we had left, and actually we had more of those between us than we thought because Tony had been holding back on a bit of a stash concealed in the back of his wallet that he hadn’t owned up to and the rest of us were all a bit upset about that!  We had been thoroughly mugged and as we waved goodbye to the two policemen Anthony shouted a rather unpleasant accusation of dishonesty and an invitation to thoroughly enjoy our contribution to the Guardia Civil Christmas party fund, which thankfully they didn’t hear.

When we got back home I wrote to the Spanish Embassy in London to complain and to request a refund and although they replied and sympathised they explained that they had no authority over the police and therefore couldn’t do anything to help.  It was a nice letter though!

Richard was a bit upset about the incident and sulked for the next hour or so while we drove past Burgos and stopped at a little town at just about breakfast time and found a bank where we could get enough cash to buy some fuel to get us out of Spain.  We carried on out of Castilla y León and into the green mountains of the Basque Country, past Bilbaó and San Sebastián and then headed east towards the Pyrenees and then the last Spanish town of Irun at the border with France, which we finally reached about twenty hours behind schedule.

 

General Franco and the Valle de los Caídos

According to the Spanish Newspaper El Pais there was violence and moments of high tension this morning at the Valle de los Caídos (The Valley of the Fallen) which is an embarrassing memorial to the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.  Francoist hard-liners, skin heads and neo-Nazis attempted to access the monument for the traditional annual remembrance service on the anniversary of the Generalísimo’s death in 1975 but were stopped by riot police and officers of the Guardia Civil.

I mention this because only a week ago I was in Spain at this very place and unadvisedly tried to visit this place.

The route from Manzanares Real to El Escorial took us to the foothills of the Sierra Guadarrama mountain range and directly past one of the few remaining reminders of the Franco regime, the Valle de los Caídos.  The Valley of the Fallen, is a shallow green basin tucked into the folds of the mountain about fifty kilometres north of central Madrid.  It is the controversial last resting place of the dictator General Francisco Franco who conceived this place for himself out of his own arrogance and conceit.  For almost forty years the Generalísimo was someone that Spaniards could not escape from. He was there in school books, church prayers, statues, plaques, street names and thousands of other reminders of a violent insurrection that led to a vicious civil war.  Now though his face and name are being erased from public view and even the army, where nostalgia for the dictator survived long after his death in 1975, has pledged to remove all plaques, statues and monuments to the regime of a man it once revered.

From the entrance gate there is a five kilometre drive to the monument on a road that passes through lush vegetation of tall pines punctuated by a scattering of oak, ilex and poplar trees and which passes over a couple of elegant stone bridges and at the top is the most recent piece of fascist religious monumental architecture to have been erected in western Europe.  A huge blue-grey granite cross soars one hundred and fifty metres into the sky which on a clear day can be seen from the centre of Madrid and no wonder because it is supposed to be the largest in Europe.  Below the cross are a series of arches overlooking a wide featureless esplanade and beyond the galleries is the entrance to the basilica through two modest bronze doors.

The floor is made of granite and black marble and above it there is an interior dome lined in gold mosaic.  The basilica is longer than St Peter’s in Rome and almost as high and is built to dimensions that matched the mountainous ego of its creator.  Officially it is a war memorial in remembrance of all those who perished in the Spanish civil war and a symbol of forgiveness and peace but the monument has never actually managed to achieve this worthy status because it was built using Republican prisoners as labourers and the grim intimidating monument has always been seen rather as a symbol of the victory of the Nationalists.

Today the monument is an embarrassment to the State and successive Spanish governments have agonised over what to do with it.  Since 2004 the left-leaning government, which has been following a policy of the removal of Francoist symbols from public buildings and spaces, has had an uneasy relationship with a monument that is the most conspicuous legacy from Franco’s rule.  

In November 2009, Patrimonio Nacional, who manage the building suddenly and controversially ordered the closure of the basilica for an indefinite period of time, citing as a reason deterioration and preservation issues which may affect the Cross and compromise some of the sculptures. These allegations have been contested by technical experts and the religious community that lives in the complex, and had been seen by some conservative opinion groups as a policy of harassment against the monument, an opinion reinforced when in 2010 the Pieta sculpture group started to be ‘dismantled’ with hammers and heavy machinery.

Every year on the first Saturday after the 20th November, the day of the death of Franco, old hard-line Fracoists attend a religious ceremony, which is really a political rally, at the monument in his memory and this annual gathering of fascists is also an embarrassment to the government and to most of modern Spain.

We knew that the monument was closed but the gate was open so we swung inside and pulled up beside the pay kiosk at the entrance where a middle aged lady explained that the monument wasn’t open and we should leave.  I followed some cars and drove on expecting to find a turning point but after a kilometre it was obvious there wasn’t one and the cars we were following were authorised to be there so I did a three point turn instead next to two vertical granite columns at either side of the road. 

What we hadn’t known about was the significance of the 20th November and being only a week away this must have been making the people on the gate a bit nervous because as we drove down we passed the woman from the kiosk who was pursuing us in a red Seat and who waved frantically to us as we drove by.  Political rallies in celebration of the former dictator are now banned by the Law of Historical Memory, voted on by the Congress of Deputies in October 2007 and it seems that the authorities are anticipating extra trouble this year in response to the closure of the monument and back at the gate two burly Civil Guard were shaking their heads and giving disapproving grimaces.  I gave my best socialist smile and made pathetic gestures of apology but then left as quickly as possible and rejoined the road to El Escorial where we hoped we might be made to feel more welcome.